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Avigdor Kahalani

(1944 - )

Avigdor Kahalani is a former career officer in the Israel Defense Forces and a former politician in Israel's Knesset. He is most famous for his heroics in the Yom Kippur War.

Kahalani (born June 16, 1944) was born in pre-State Israel in the small but budding community of Ness Ziona. In 1962, at the age of 18, Kahalani was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, where he would distinguishly serve as a career soldier for thirty years, achieving the rank of Brigadier-General, and eventually become of Israel's most decorated combat officers.

During the Six Day War in 1967, Kahalani received the Medal of Distinguished Service for his heroism after being badly wounded while fighting the enemy in his Centurion tank. It was in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, however, that Kahalani's name would be etched forever into Israeli history.

Commanding a tank battalion in the fiercely contested northern region known as the Golan Heights, Kahalani hastily assembled a group of tanks and crews from various armour units to try and repel the Syrians following their surprise assault on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. The vastly superior Syrian forces had already overrun Israeli positions in the first days of the war, but Kahalani's force - outnumbered and outgunned - managed to keep the attackers at bay long enough for Israeli reserve tank and infantry units to push the Syrians back over the border. The battle proved to be one of the major turning points of the war. After the war, the valley where the battle took place was littered with hundreds of burned Syrian tanks and was renamed Emek Ha-Bacha - The Valley of Tears.

Following the conclusion of the war, Kahalani was awarded the Medal of Valor, the country's highest military decoration.

After retiring from the IDF in 1992, Kahalani was elected to the Knesset as part of the Labor Party, serving on the Foreign Affairs and Defense and the Education and Culture Committees. He was very active in the Committee for the Rescue of Jews from Yemen and Chairman of the Golan Lobby in the Knesset.

During the Knesset session, Kahalani broke away from the Labor Party and became one of the founders of the Third Way, a party he would lead in the 1996 elections where they received four parliamentary seats.  Kahalani joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition and was subsequently appointed Minister of Public Security.

In the 1999 elections, however, the Third Way party failed to cross the electoral threshold and Kahalani lost his seat. He later joined Likud, and was placed 43rd on the party's list for the 2003 elections, but missed out on a seat when the party won only 38.

Kahalani holds a B.A. degree in History from Tel Aviv University and an M.A. in Political Science from Haifa University. He also attended the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and graduated form the National Defense College.  He is the author of several books: The Heights of Courage: A Tank Leader's War on the Golan, On the Golan and A Warrior's Way.

In September 2013, Israeli President Shimon Peres announced that Kahalani would be the key recipient of that years President's Medal of Distinction, Israel's highest civilian honor.  The Medal is awarded to those individuals or organizations that make unique and significant contribution to Israeli society and civilization in general and to the enhancement of Israel’s global image. Among its past recipients are US President Barack Obama, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former US president Bill Clinton.

Kahalani is married and has three children.

Sources: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wikipedia; Jerusalem Post (September 12, 2013). Photo used with permission of the Knesset